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Cross-Cultural Marketing Made Easy

Ayrora Temple
One basic lesson learned by online adult entertainment entrepreneurs is that the Internet is a global medium. Perhaps a statement of the obvious, it would seem that despite the common sense of it, many marketers — both mainstream and adult — just don't "get it" when it comes to serving the needs and catering to the sensibilities of a global audience.

In one famous example from the 1970s, American computer manufacturer Wang was in a dilemma over how to handle the issue of its British division deciding not to advertise the company's latest marketing slogan: "Wang Cares." My Brit readers who would hear that as "Wankers" will understand what the problem was.

While the robustness of sales back in the good old days allowed many operators to enjoy a complacent reliance on income from a domestic audience to fuel their bottom line, a variety of market-changing influences has conspired over the years to make sales ever harder and their pursuit ever more widespread — including across the seas to distant shores, where the residents, despite being your potential customers, have "their own way of doing things" — and running afoul of these cultural preferences may spell disaster for your efforts. Of course, being able to transcend these natural barriers will increase sales.

At this point it's important to note that within the broader discussion of reaching our global audience are two main concepts: that of cross-cultural and cross-national variances among your website's viewing audience. While cross-national issues deal with the basic demographic and other differences between countries, for example, language, currency and payment preferences; cross-cultural issues deal with more psychographic elements including identity factors which transcend national borders, such as the viewer's religion and ethnicity.

Consider the importance of emerging markets and target regional audiences appropriately but always keep in mind that just because someone lives someplace (or accesses your site from somewhere), it doesn't mean that's where they're from: for example, visits from the Middle East may be lonely servicemen homesick for California girls — and likewise, that visitor logging in from Detroit may really wish your site offered more Bedouin girls — such are the realities of life in our multicultural society.

An offline analogy may be found out on the Las Vegas strip in the façade of the MGM Grand Hotel — which went through considerable and costly renovations to replace the giant golden lion whose mouth visitors had to pass through — after many Asian customers expressed discomfort over the feature (and were often unwilling to enter). Today, a pair of golden lions decorates either side of the main entrance. In this example, the fact that the hotel was located in a prominent American city had nothing to do with its need to cater to an Asian clientele.

As adult website operators, we also need to cater to an Asian audience, regardless of which country within Asia that visitor may be in — or from. Likewise, we must also cater to audiences from many other ethnic groups and geographic regions in order to give our offers the most appeal.

This isn't simply about translating your website into other languages or adding multiple billing options, it's a process that should begin at the earliest stages of product development and extend throughout the distribution chain and ongoing marketing efforts.

Culture Coach Kari Heistad offers clients seven cross-cultural marketing tips that begin with understanding your own cultural background.

"How have your education, traveling, gender, faith, children, sexual orientation, hobbies, and/or recreational interests shaped who you are? What celebrations and rituals are important to you?" Heistad asks. "These elements collectively form your unique cultural identity, the lens through which you see the world. In this sense, every encounter we have with another person is essentially a cultural exchange, not just those with someone who obviously speaks, eats, dresses or appears differently."

"The next time you interact across cultures, share who you are, too," Heistad added. "This will help us to learn from each other and not just about each other."

Heistad also advises marketers to focus on their core expertise, bringing in cultural experts as needed; and to do their homework to gain a better understanding of the people they are trying to reach; learning about their preferred communication and negotiation styles and more.

One tip that Heistad offers is to emphasize written communication, using bulleted points of key topics — a technique that may be particularly helpful on join pages, for example, where the basic details of your deal need to be easily understood.

"This ensures that everyone (even those with more limited English skills) can feel confident that they [understand] what is being presented," she said.

Heistad encourages clients to ask open ended questions when functioning in a foreign language as well, in order to overcome people's natural tendency to say yes when asked a question even if they don't understand what was asked — something she says is true even when we are asked, "Do you understand?"

"The next time you are interacting cross culturally, ask an open-ended question such as 'Can you tell me what we need to do next?' instead of 'Do you understand?'" Heistad opined. "If the person is unable to answer what needs to happen next, then you know that you need to explain further."

While adult websites don't typically make such advanced queries of their users, having an understanding of these communication concepts is key to reaching a global user base.

Communication, of course, is nothing without understanding; and to that end, Heistad recommends that global marketers always make use of professional translators to ensure that the true meaning of your messages come across. Understanding, however, involves also listening to, and learning about, the people you're communicating with, including their religion and national holidays — knowledge that can be used to schedule, or delay, promotions, launches and other events.

"The month of Ramadan is important in many parts of the world, and, having critical deadlines during this month is challenging," Heistad said. "If your target countries have a strong religious basis for their culture, make sure that you learn about the religion and its taboos, restrictions and ways that religious beliefs can work in your favor."

In his look at cross-cultural issues, "Marketing in the 21st Century," Robert Guang Tian, Ph. D., associate professor of business administration at Erskine College, says that today, globalization is an inevitable process, as is cross-culturalization.

"On the one hand, the world is becoming more homogeneous, and distinctions between national markets are not only fading but, for some products, will disappear altogether. This means that marketing is now a world-encompassing discipline," Tian wrote. "However, on the other hand, the differences among nations, regions, and ethnic groups in terms of cultural factors are far from distinguishing but become more obvious."

Tian echoes the need for marketers to be aware of and sensitive to cultural differences and emphasizes the need to develop cultural empathy which recognizes, understands and respects cultural differences, advising marketers to "be culturally neutral and realize that different is not necessarily better or worse."

"Never assume transferability of a concept from one culture to another," Tian advises. "Get cultural informants involved into the decision-making [process]."

Tian warns that merely focusing on cultural differences as a means of tailoring marketing efforts for "political correctness" and acceptability by consumers in various markets isn't necessarily the best approach.

"Successful marketers should also seek out cultural similarities, in order to identify opportunities to implement a modified standardized marketing mix," Tian offered.

"To be able to skillfully manipulate these similarities and differences in the worldwide marketplaces is one of the most important marketing strategies for businesses in the 21st Century."

Tian is quick to point out the two-way street that is the marketing relationship between merchant and consumer and the responsibilities that relationship entails — an issue that is even more prominent for operators in the adult space.

"Not only does culture influence marketing; but marketing also influences culture," Tian said. "Marketers can act as agents of changes within a culture."

In conclusion, researching the different countries and cultures that you wish to sell your product in and to, is the first step towards treating your customer with respect — and that is the foundation upon which sales and retention are built.

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